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Movie making Camden style

Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover
Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover

Movie makers have always had an eye on the Camden district’s large  country houses, rustic farm buildings, quaint villages and picturesque countryside for film locations.

From the 1920s the area has been used by a series of film makers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers. They wrote stories of quaint English style villages with a church on the hill, charming gentry estates down hedge-lined lanes, where the patriarch kept contented cows in ordered fields and virile stallions in magnificent stables.  This did not go un-noticed in the film industry.

Camden Park Publicity

One of the first was the 1921 silent film Silks and Saddles shot at Arthur Macarthur Onslow’s Macquarie Grove by American director John K Wells about the world of horse racing. The film was set on the race track on Macquarie Grove. The script called for a race between and aeroplane and race horse. The movie showed a host good looking racing blood-stock. There was much excitement, according to Annette Onslow, when an airplane piloted by Edgar Percival his Avro landed on the race course used in the film and flew the heroine to Randwick to win the day. Arthur’s son Edward swung a flight in Percival’s plane and was hooked on flying for life, and later developed Camden Airfield at Macquarie Grove.

Camden film locations were sought in 1931 for director Ken G Hall’s 1932 Dad and Dave film On Our Selection based on the characters and writings of Steele Rudd. It stars Bert Bailey as Dan Rudd and was release in the UK as Down on the Farm. It was one the most popular Australian movies of all time but it was eventually shot at Castlereagh near Penrith. The movie is based of Dan’s selection in south-west Queensland and is about a murder mystery. Ken G Hall notes that of the 18 feature films he made between 1932 and 1946 his film company used the Camden area and the Nepean River valley and its beauty for location shooting. The films included On Our Selection (1936), Squatter’s Daughter (1933), Grandad Rudd (1934), Thoroughbred (1935), Orphan of the Wilderness (1936), It Isn’t Done (1936), Broken Melody (1938), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Mr Chedworth Steps Out (1938), Gone to the Dogs (1939), Come Up Smiling (1939), Dad Rudd MP (1940), and Smith, The Story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1946).

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images

The Camden district was the location of two wartime action movies, The Power and The Glory (1941) and The Rats of Tobruk (1944). The Rats of Tobruk was directored by Charles Chauvel and starred actors Chips Rafferty, Peter Finch and Pauline Garrick. The story is about three men from a variety of backgrounds who become mates during the siege at Tobruk during the Second World War. The movie was run at Camden’s Paramount movie palace in February 1945. The location for parts of the movie were the bare paddocks of Narellan Vale and Currans Hill where they were turned into a battleground to recreated the setting at Tobruk in November 1943. There were concerns at the time that the exploding ammunitions used in the movie would disturb the cows. Soldiers were supplied from the Narellan Military Camp and tanks were modified to make them look like German panzers and RAAF Camden supplied six Vultee Vengeance aircraft from Camden Airfield which were painted up to look like German Stuka bombers. The film location was later used for the Gayline Drive In. Charles Chauvel’s daughter Susanne Carlsson who was 13 years old at the time reported that it was a ‘dramatic and interesting time’.

The second wartime movie was director Noel Monkman’s The Power and The Glory starring Peter Finch and Katrin Rosselle. The movie was made at RAAF Camden with co-operation of the RAAF. It is a spy drama about a Czech scientist who discovers a new poison gas and escapes to Australia rather than divulge the secret to the Nazis. Part of the plot was enemy infiltration of the coast near Bulli where an enemy aircraft was sighted and 5 Avro-Anson aircraft were directed to seek and bombed the submarine. The Wirraway aircraft from the RAAF Central Flying School acted as fighters and it was reported that the pilots were ‘good looking’ airmen from the base mess. There was a private screening at Camden’s Paramount movie theatre for the RAAF Central Flying School personnel.

Camden Park was used as a set for the internationally series of Smiley films, Smiley made in 1956 and in 1958 Smiley Gets a Gun in cinemascope. The story is about a nine-year old boy who is a bit of rascal who grows up in a country town. They were based on books by Australian author Moore Raymond and filmed by Twentieth Century Fox and London Films. Raymond set his stories in a Queensland country town in the early 20th century and there are horse and buggies and motor cars. The town settings were constructed from scratch and shot at Camden Park, under the management of Edward Macarthur Onslow. The movies stars included Australian Chips Rafferty and English actors John McCallum and Ralph Richardson.  Many old time locals have fond memories of being extras in the movies. Smiley was released in the United Kingdom and United States.

In 1999 Camden airfield was used as a set for the television documentary  The Last Plane Out of Berlin which was the story of Sidney Cotton. Actor Geoff Morrell played the role of Cotton, who went to England in 1916 and became a pilot and served with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. He is regarded as the ‘father of aerial photography’ and in 1939 was requested to make flights over Nazi Germany in 1939. Camden Airfield was ‘perfect location’ according to producer Jeff Watson because of its ‘historic’ 1930s atmosphere.

In 2009 scenes from X-Men Origins: Wolverine were filmed at Camden and near Brownlow Hill.

In 2010 filmmaker Sandra Pyres of Why Documentaries produced a number of short films in association for the With The Best of Intentions exhibition at The Oaks Historical Society. The films were a montage of contemporary photographs, archival footage and re-enactments by drama students of the stories of child migrants. The only voices were those of the child migrants and there were many tears spilt as the films were screened at the launch of the exhibition.

In 2011 scenes from director Wayne Blair’s Vietnam wartime true story of The Sapphires were filmed at Brownlow Hill starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Chris O’Dowd. This is the true story of four young Aboriginal sisters who are discovered by a talent scout who organises a tour of American bases in Vietnam. On Brownlow Hill a large stage was placed in the middle of cow paddock and draped with a sign that read ‘USC Show Committee presents the Sapphires’ and filming began around midnight. The cows were herded out of sight and the crew had to be careful that they did not stand of any cowpats. Apparently Sudanese refugees played the role of African American servicemen of the 19th Infantry Division.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images

The romantic house of Camelot with its turrets, chimney stacks and gables, was built by racing identity James White and designed by Horbury Hunt was the scene of activity in 2006 and 2007 for the filming of scenes of Baz Luhrman’s Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The location shots were interior and exterior scenes which involved  horse riding by Kidman and Jackman. The film is about an aristocratic woman who leaves England and follows her husband to Australia during the 1930s, and live through the Darwin bombing by the Japanese in the Second World War.

Camelot was a hive activity for the filming of the 1950s romantic television drama A Place to Call Home produced by Channel 7 in 2012. Set in rural Australia it is the story of a woman’s journey ‘to heal her soul’ and of a wealthy family facing changes in the fictional country town of Inverness in the Bligh family estate of Ash Park. Starring Marta Dusseldorp as the mysterious Sarah and Noni Hazlehurst  as the family matriarch Elizabeth, who has a number of powerful independently wealthy women who paralleled her role in Camden in time past on their gentry estates.  The sweeping melodrama about hope and loss is set against the social changes in the 1950s and has close parallels to 1950s Camden. The ‘sumptuous’ 13 part drama series screened on television in 2013 and according to its creator Bevin Lee had a ‘large-scale narrative’ that had a ‘feature-film feel’. He maintained that is was ‘rural gothic’, set in a big house that had comparisons with British television drama Downton Abbey.

The 55-room fairytale like mansion and its formal gardens were a ‘captivating’ setting for A Place to Call Home, according to the Property Observer in 2013. Its initial screening was watched by 1.7 million viewers in April 2013. The show used a host of local spots for film sets and one of the favourite points of conversation ‘around the water-cooler’ for locals was the game ‘pick-the-place’. By mid-2014 Channel 7 had decided to axe the series at the end of the second series. There was a strong local reaction and a petition was circulating which attracted 6000 signatures to keep the show on air. In the end Foxtel television produced a third series with the original caste which screened in 2015.

Camden airfield was in action again and used as a set for the Australian version of the British motoring television show Top Gear Australian in 2010.  Part of the show are power laps in a ‘Bog Standard Car’ were recorded on parts of the runways and taxiways used as a test track.

Camden Showground became the set for Angelina Jolie’s Second World War drama Unbroken in 2013. The main character Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, and Onslow Park was used as part of the story of his early life as a member of Torrance High School track team. The movie is about Zamperini’s story of survival after his plane was shot down during the Pacific campaign. The filming caused much excitement in the area and the local press gave the story extensive coverage, with the showground was chosen for its historic atmosphere. Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak hoped that the movie would boost local tourism and the council was supportive of the area being used as a film set. The council had appointed a film contact officer to encourage greater use of the area for film locations.

Edwina Macarthur Stanham writes that Camden Park has been the filming location for a number of movies, advertisements and fashion shoots  since the 1950s.   They have included Smiley (1956), Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), Shadow of the Boomerang (1960) starring Jimmy Little, My Brilliant Career (1978) was filmed in Camden Park and its garden and surrounds, and The Empty Beach (1985) starring Bryan Brown, House Taken Over (1997) a short film written and directed by Liz Hughes which used  lots of scenes in the house. In the 21st century there has been Preservation (2003) described a gothic horror movie starring Jacqueline Mackenzie, Jack Finsterer and Simon Bourke which used a lot of the scenes filmed in the house.

In 2005 Danny De Vito visited Camden Park scouting for a location for a movie based on the book “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle”.  In Sleeping Beauty (2010) an Australian funded film was shot at Camden Park and the short film La Finca (2012). In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham
The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham

In 2015 the Camden Historical Society and filmmaker Wen Denaro have combined forces to telling the story of the Chinese market gardeners who settled in Camden in the early twentieth century. The project will produce  a short documentary about the Chinese market gardeners who established vegetable gardens along the river in Camden and who supplied fresh product to  the Macarthur and Sydney markets.

In 2015 an episode of the Network Ten TV show of The Bachelor Australia was filmed at Camden Park in August 2015. They showed scenes of the Bachelor Sam Wood taking one of the bachelorette Sarah on a romantic date to the colonial mansion Camden Park. There were scenes of the pair in a two-in-hand horse drawn white carriage going up and down the driveway to the Camden Park cemetery on the hill overlook the town. There were scenes in the soft afternoon sunlight of the couple having a romantic high-tea on the verandah of Camden Park house with champagne and scones and cup cakes. In the evening there were floodlit images of the front of Camden Park house from the front lawn then scenes of the couple in the sitting room siting of the leather sofa sharing wine, cheese and biscuits in front on an open fire and candles. Sarah is gobsmacked with the house, its setting and is ‘amazed’ by the house’s colonial interior.

 

In 2018 a children’s film Peter Rabbit was been filmed in the Camden district. The movie is based on Beatrix Potter’s famous book series and her iconic characters. The special effects company Animal Logic spent two days on the shoot in Camden in January 2017. The first scene features the kidnap of the rabbit hero in a sack, throwing them off a bridge and into the river. For this scene the Macquarie Grove Bridge over the Nepean River was used for the bridge in the movie. According to a spokesman the reason the Camden area was used was because it fitted the needed criteria. The movie producers were looking for a location that screamed of its Englishness. Camden does that and a lot more dating back to the 1820s. The movie is set in modern day Windermere in the English Lakes District. The location did not have to have too many gum trees or other recognisable Australian plants. John and Elizabeth Macarthur would be proud of their legacy – African Olives and other goodies. Conveniently the airport also provided the location for a stunt scene which uses a bi-plane. The role of the animators is to make Australia look like England.

 

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Local historian takes a fresh look at the Campbelltown story

Review: Pictorial History Campbelltown & District. By Jeff McGill. Sydney: Kingsclear Books, 2017. Pp. iv + 139. Illustrations, index, select bibliography, paper. 978-0-99444456-2-9.

Pictorial History Campbelltown and District sets out to break the stereotypes that have plagued Campbelltown for decades. Local author and photographer Jeff McGill illustrates in his new publication how the city is mulit-dimensional and has many facets to its character.

The book is a fresh look at a community through local eyes and shows the community’s vibrancy, enthusiasm and strength. It illustrates how the community has endured many challenges from the dreamtime to the present.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History McGill 2017 Cover

 

McGill’s use of images peels back the layers of meaning and reveals the heart of the city. Photographs demonstrate the dynamic nature of the community and how it has changed over time.

Historical photographs are a window into the past and provide a form of expression materially different from the written or oral record. Photographs are accessible and immediate to the viewer. They are unfiltered and provide a meaning to the setting of the subject.

Historical photographs show an immense amount of detail and are an archive of meaning about the past. Quite often the viewer feels that they are intruding on a private event or function.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[2] McGill Launch 2017
Author Jeff McGill signing copies of his book standing next to the publisher Catherine Warne from Kingsclear Books at the Glenalvon launch of Pictorial History Campbelltown & District on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

While photographic images capture a moment in time they also have deeper meanings. Just like the writer the photographer is trying to say something in their formatting, structure and composition of the image.  What is the message that the photographer is trying to the tell the viewer?

Sometimes the photograph poses a host of other questions. Why is the street not paved? Why is the women’s dress that long? Why are people wearing those funny clothes? Why are there cows in the paddock? Why are their no electricity poles?  These are all part of the composition of the photographs in this pictorial history.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[2] McGill 2017
Campbelltown Railway Station which opened in 1858. What is little understood is the  importance of the rail link to people living in the Illawarra until the opening of Wollongong Railway Station in 1887. There was a daily coach service running between the station and Wollongong which still persists today. (CAHS)

Jeff McGill provides a  perspective of the lived local experience of Campbelltonian and a journalist’s nose for a good story. McGill has published a number of local histories that show the hand of someone who understands the nuances of small communities.

After growing up in Campbelltown, going to school in the city McGill worked for the large metropolitan dailies. He then returned to Campbelltown so he could write stories about interesting people rather than those based on hard bitten sensationalist attitude to journalism in the big smoke.

It is this attitude that shone when the Macarthur Advertiser, under McGill’s editorship,  took out two national awards for the best local newspaper in Australia. He has been praised for being a passionate Campbelltonian and it shows in  Pictorial History Campbelltown & District.

The images that McGill has chosen for the book show the same characteristics that are part of successful journalism in the provincial press. Each image tells a story about local characters and identities and capture a snapshot of a time long past.  McGill’s deft eye for composition and impact as a photographer is clearly demonstrated in his layout work in the book.

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill 2017
A procession in Queen Street in 1910 was organised by the local Waratah and Wallaby Football Club.  (CAHS)
The images are drawn from a range of archives – Campbelltown City Library, the Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society, many private collections, individual photographers and the author. Many of these images are not accessible to the general public in any form and this publication breaks ground in this area.  The book is complemented by a select bibliography and index.

Some of the images  show important events which had repercussions on the national stage  like the election of the Whitlam government (p. 123),  and the First (pp. 54-61) and Second World Wars (pp. 81-87).

The Pictorial History Campbelltown & District provides a new perspective on the history of Campbelltown from earlier histories.  Carol Liston’s Campbelltown The Bicentennial History and William A Bayley’s History of Campbelltown New South Wales are narrative histories of the city and surrounding suburbs. Bayley’s history was published at the time of one of the greatest changes in the history of Campbelltown. In 1973 the state government the announcement of The New Cities of Campbelltown Camden Appin Structure Plan and the establishment of the Macarthur Growth Centre. Liston’s history was published during the nationalist frenzy linked to the Australian Bicentenary Celebrations of 1988.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[3] McGill Launch 2017
Author and photographer Jeff McGill showing off his latest publication at the Glenalvon launch on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

More that just a narrative Pictorial History Campbelltown & District is an entry point to the daily lives of those living in Campbelltown. The images are accompanied by a lively story about the characters and events from Campbelltown’s past.

The city has not always received a good press in the Sydney metropolitan dailies and this publication challenges these stereotypes. This collection of images provides a human side to the local story about real people with real lives who create a vibrant  community.

The Campbelltown community has many community organisations that are the basis of the city’s resilience and one of these is the Campbelltown and Airds Historical Society which contributed a number of images to the book. The society also provided the venue for the book launch in the wonderful atmospherics provided by Campbelltown’s historic house Glenalvon.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill Launch Hayes 2017
Past president of the Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society introducing proceedings at the Glenalvon launch of Pictorial History Campbelltown & District on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

The gathering was introduced by past president Kay Hayes, followed by publisher Catherine Warne from Kingsclear Books. Catherine outlined the history of her firm over  30 years of publishing. She said that Campbelltown pictorial history was one of the last pieces of the jigsaw of the Sydney area for her firm. She had been trying to complete her coverage of the metropolitan area for many years and this book was the first time that she has had an author take over the design work.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill Launch Warne 2017
Publisher Catherine Warne from Kingsclear Books introducing author Jeff McGill’s Pictorial History Campbelltown & District at the Glenalvon launch on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

Jeff McGill then spoke about the gestation of the book, its development and fruition with the support of many people and organisations. Jeff outlined how there were lots of images that were considered for the book and a culling process narrowed down the selection. The chosen were those which told a story or provided the greatest meaning to the Campbelltown story.

McGill made the point that quite a number of the images came from family photograph albums that he had been given access to over many years. This was  the first time that they have been published. Jeff would visit local families be given afternoon tea and he would copy the images from the family album.

 

Campbelltown Pictorial History[1] McGill Launch 2017
Raconteur, author and photographer Jeff McGill on the launch of his Pictorial History Campbelltown & District at Glenalvon on Saturday 9 December 2017 (I Willis)

Jeff McGill’s Pictorial History Campbelltown & District  provides a human side to the local story about real people with real lives who create a vibrant and wonderful community. The city has broken free of many of its stereotypes and ghosts, yet it still continues to face many challenges with a positive outlook to the future.

Camden · Entertainment · Heritage · Local History · Theatre · Uncategorized

Camden Theatre Group

Camden Theatre Group Programme Quasiville 1960
Camden Theatre Group Programme Quasiville 1960

The Camden Theatre Group was one of a number of community organisations that existed in the Camden area in the post-war period. It mounted a host of productions over 20 years, mostly by non-professional members of the community.

The term community theatre refers to theatrical performance within and by the community. It can fit within the area of community arts which is wide and varied. Sometimes the community group works with professional actors and production teams. Community theatre helps build community development and community participation and engagement, which all contributed to the development of social capital.

Arts historian Katherine Knight reports that other active community theatre groups were the Castle Hill Players (1954) and the Henry Lawson Players (1969), both still active. In the local area the Campbelltown Theatre Group started in 1976 and is still very active.

The Camden Theatre Group was originally formed in Camden in 1953 and was extremely active from the beginning. In its first year the company staged three shows. It launched its first season 1954 with ‘Fresh Fields’, followed later in the year with ‘Gypsy Story’ and ‘Trial By Jury’. This was followed up in 1955 with ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ and ‘Maid of the Mountain’, with the highlight of 1956 ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’ and ‘Our Miss Gibbs’.

One of the early presidents was local novelist and dramatist Charles Inglis.

Productions were held in the AH&I Hall in Central Camden and in 1966 the company mounted Irving Berlin’s famous musical ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ in October. The leading roles for Annie was played by Christine de Looze and Frank Butler by Frank Armstrong. Christine de Looze debuted for the theatre group in ‘The Drunkard’ in 1965, and followed this up in 1966 playing the part of ballet dancer Essie Sycamore in ‘You Can’t Take it with You’. Frank Armstrong was one of the most experienced members of the company and had experience with JC Williamsons for some years appearing in a variety of musicals including ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Kiss Me Kate’. In 1964 he entertained Camden audiences as Curly in ‘Oklahoma’.

In early 1968 the Camden press reported that Liz Kernohan was elected president at the AGM of the theatre group with co-patrons Dr RM Crookston, W Clifton, EC Britton, B Ferguson and W Sidman. The secretary was M Ferguson and B Clark, with vice-presidents C Manners and C Inglis, supported by general committee of eleven. It was reported that the group looked forward ‘to a full and rewarding programme with increased social activities and many opportunities for people who may be afraid of the footlights’.

Joyce Thorn recalled that Liz Kernohan was Bloody Mary in the company’s 1962 musical ‘South Pacific’ and says that she was ‘really spot on and the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever seen’. Joyce remembers that ‘she had confidence that she could do it’. Joyce and two car loads of friends would regularly come into Camden for theatre group productions and felt that the ‘theatre group did quite well’.

In 1969 the committee under the direction of president Liz Kernohan stated the theatre group enjoyed bringing forward their production and appealed for audience support by telling their friends. Local supporters could become an associate member for one dollar that entitled the holder to preferential bookings and inclusion in theatre parties. Productions were moved to the Camden High School hall in John Street, Camden.

The company kept up a busy production schedule from its foundation and between 1953 and 1971 there were 29 separate productions, and from 1972 and to 1981 there were 21.

In early 1974 the Stables Theatre Group got under way when the Camden Theatre Group signed an eight year lease on The Stables at Camden Park Estate. The signatories were the president Liz Kernohan, secretary Richard Echin and Quentin Macarthur Stanham of Camden Park.

In 1975 the theatre group was re-structured as the Camden Theatre Group Co-operative Society Ltd. The aim of the re-structuring was the establishment of the Stables Theatre under the chairmanship of Camden Mayor Bruce Ferguson. The co-ordinator of the Stables Theatre Group was Jean Burton, and secretary Janice McDonnell. The co-operative’s board was made up of 14 representatives made up of eight directors from shareholders and six representatives from the organisations. Amongst board members were representatives from a number of community groups which were the Arts Society, Chamber of Commerce and Macarthur Apex. The chairman of the board was F Hibble from Tahmoor.

In 1980 the theatre group was suffering financial difficulties and had revival plans in place. The restoration of The Stables had put the company under financial pressure.

The last production mounted by the theatre group at The Stables was the three act ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’ was put on in 1981 in the round. Diana Sharpe played Burra, Sally Hogan took the role of Pearl, Jeff Ballinger played Barney, ably supported by a number of other local identities.

Joyce Thorn, Interview with Ian Willis, Camden, 7 September 2014

Read more about community theatre at The Association of Community Theatre here

Read about Arts activism in Western Sydney with Katherine Knight @ Western Sydney Frontier and her excellent history of the Arts in Western Sydney Passion Purpose Meaning, Arts Activism in Western Sydney (2007)